When to Assess a War’s Progress?
Cato’s Andrew Coulson argues that, “It is never the waging of wars that makes you safer, only the winning of them.”
The U.S. was not safer in 1942—1945 than it had been in early 1941. We entered World War II because winning it would make America safer. In trying to win it, we suffered over a million casualties.
Part of the argument for toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime was that a beachhead for freedom and democracy in a Muslim Middle Eastern nation would, in the long term, weaken militant Islamism and promote peace. It was never suggested that the process of trying to create that beachhead would itself make anyone safer — no more than it was suggested that Americans would be safer during our participation in WW II.
Now, of course, we’ve been in Iraq 3-1/2 years, roughly the amount of time the United States spent fighting the Nazis, with rather less to show for it. Even Coulson is unwilling to argue that “freedom and democracy are sure (or even likely) to take root in Iraq.”
Still, I’m not sure his argument merits being dismissed as “a ‘don’t confuse me with the facts’ approach,” by David Beito, let alone being placed among the “dumbest f—ers on the planet” by Jim Henley.
Indeed, Coulson’s argument amounts to a truism. Societies are generally worse off during a war than they were before it and it can be generations before the price paid is “worth it” even after the political objectives for which the war was fought are achieved.
Is Coulson’s argument falsifiable, as Beito demands? Well, no. It’s axiomatic that processes underway may produce better results than the status quo but one can’t disprove a prediction about an open-ended eventuality. Then again, wars aren’t scientific experiments.
And, contra Henley, one could certainly make the argument that the failure of the Soviets to produce anything close to paradise by the 1970s did not disprove Marxian theory. After fifty years, of course, it would have been difficult to argue that the Leninist-Stalist model was going to end well.